Your Customer-Driven Future.
At the heart of the VRM philosophy is the intention to impel businesses to move away from a customer-focused approach and towards a customer-driven outlook. Some recent developments at Tesco.com (the online service of the UK's largest supermarket chain) provide an opportunity to clarify the distinction.
Tesco were the first UK supermarket to launch an online shopping site, but its initial iteration seemed to have simply cut and pasted their warehouse stock-lists into a template. Whereas a supermarket shopper would select the shelf for the category, identify their favoured brand and then select the size of product they wanted, hereyou had categories listed by size of product. You found yourself looking at a list of the various 250 ml aerosol deodorants and then the various 100 ml deodorants. An experience at complete variance with what you understood shopping to be.
I recall writing to the CEO and being told that things would get better and of course they did. But this was customer focus in action. Target those shoppers who might be net savvy and keep them in the fold by giving them a website as soon as possible regardless of its usability and the experience it offers them. Customer focus is about putting the passive customer in your cross-hairs and deciding when you squeeze the trigger.
Last week at the Microsoft PDC in Los Angeles, Tesco.com announced among other things that they had created software that enabled any online shopper to use their webcam as a barcode scanner when setting up their online shopping lists. That's all about making the process easier for the customer. It's about thinking about how the customer behaves and how you can make it easier and more agreeable for them. That's arguably a good definition of customer centricity.
But it's splitting hairs. Customer centricity is still not enough because the imposed passivity remains and the customer only gets what they're given and nothing that they've driven. Echoing Adriana's earlier post, Doc Searls twittered this week from a web 2.0 conference in London,
The key to customer-driven lies in the verb. There can be no doubt here, the user is in charge and actively directing the process.
In a move that really hints at the customer-driven future, Tesco.com also announced last week that they were opening up their API. By summer 2009 anyone will be able to create widgets and programs that can facilitate the use of the system. Many of those geeks will be existing customers who have had frustrations with the current system or who have identified ways that make the process easier for customers.
The outcome should be that customers will be able to drive how the service works for them, that Tesco.com will gain a richer knowledge of their needs, and that those customers will be better customers as true loyalty displaces habituation.
You can make as many proclamations as you like about being customer-focused or customer-centric, but do so in the knowledge that you are well behind the curve. In a collaborative, post-messaging world, your "focus" has to "centre" on creating a customer-driven business.
Bonus link: The guy from Tesco who made the announcements has a blog.